North-South Rail Link rides again

The dynamic duo of  Michael Dukakis and William Weld have teamed up to seize the headlines in the dog days of summer with a surefire conversation starter: building the North-South Rail Link.

The former governors joined forces in a Boston Globe opinion column to laud the benefits of a one-mile tunnel connecting South Station to North Station.

Their boldness has set some hearts a-flutter in the Twitterverse; others not so much:

Boston Globe business columnist Shirley Leung reported that the Conservation Law Foundation likes the idea of the rail link (along with expanding South Station).

But the lack of a few billion dollars has tabled many a worthy Massachusetts transportation project. The former governors say the project would provide “millions of dollars in new passenger revenues and millions more in maintenance savings” and take cars off the roads.

Yet without a viable construction funding strategy, the North-South Rail link is destined to go the way of South Coast Rail, another transportation plan has been effectively paused by the MBTA’s ongoing financial and management crisis. A repeatedly promised financial plan for a New Bedford-Fall River rail link never materialized under former governor Deval Patrick.

Attempts to secure more funding for transportation projects in Massachusetts have come to naught. On November 4, 2014, a day that will live in transportation history infamy, Massachusetts voters rejected the gas tax indexing, a negligible yearly increase on the state gas tax.

There is no interest in devoting more money into transportation projects, especially a mammoth one such as the North-South Rail Link. If Massachusetts voters won’t part ways with the dollars and cents to fill potholes and repair bridges, they won’t have any zeal for a tunnel — in Boston. Without a dramatic shift in public sentiment, that means that any plan to raise taxes for transportation will not make it to the floor under House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

As for the federal government, if anyone has any less of an appetite for a new tunnel in Boston than Bay State voters, it is Uncle Sam. Remember Silver Line III? Quoth the feds about that one-mile, $756 million (in 2003 dollars) tunneling project:  “The overall project rating of Not Recommended is based on MBTA’s unreasonable operating cost assumptions.”

Notice, too, that Congress does not exhibit the same fondness for public transportation that former Massachusetts governors do. If congressional Republicans hate anything more than urban transportation projects, it is Amtrak which would be a major beneficiary of a North-South Rail Link project.

The House of Representatives voted to cut Amtrak funding the day after the derailment of an Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia that killed eight people. Note also that Congress has yet to fund a long-term surface transportation bill. The US transportation system is running on a three-month stopgap measure, the latest in a long-running series of temporary funding plans.

So, no sooner than they dispensed with the idea of Boston 2024 Summer Olympics, Baker administration officials find themselves in another debate over another nice-to-have-but-nobody-wants-to-pay-for investment.

“While we are happy to talk to people about reopening the question of the North-South Rail Link, it is not instead of the South Station expansion project,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told the Globe‘s Leung. “We need to expand South Station.”

Lest anyone forget, expanding South Station is headache enough for Massachusetts transportation officials. The state has yet to persuade the US Post Office, which now occupies the South Station expansion footprint, to move. With the post office getting the competitive stuffing kicked out of it by the likes of Fed Ex, UPS, and, of course, email, postal officials do not seem interested in giving up this valuable asset.

In some ways, the transportation conversation in Massachusetts is doomed by an overabundance of excellent ideas like the North-South Rail Link.  What transportation advocates have not figured out is how to convince the people of Massachusetts, their elected representatives or the business community that they should invest dollars in world-class projects like the North-South Rail Link.

With the MBTA under the aegis of a control board, it is highly unlikely that Baker transportation officials will expend much energy on what is, for now, the fantasy of a tunnel ‘neath the streets of Boston.




State Rep. Garrett Bradley of Hingham, a key member of the House leadership team, has filed a bill at the behest of Kinder Morgan to allow the energy giant to run a gas pipeline through conservation land in Sandisfield — more than 140 miles from Bradley’s South Shore district. (Patriot Ledger)

State Democratic party officials chided Gov. Charlie Baker for showing up at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Bristol Community College after using the knife to cut the school’s budget by $6.5 million, a veto that was overridden by the Legislature. (Herald News)

Advocates for immigrants applaud a bill filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, that would prohibit local police from assisting federal immigration officials from apprehending undocumented people, except dangerous criminals. (MetroWest Daily News)


The towns of Swansea and Somerset have proposed to share their building inspectors, the latest in a growing agreement between the neighboring towns to share municipal services to reduce costs. (Herald News)

Fallon Ambulance has dropped its suit against Quincy that claimed the city was biased and unfair in the selection process by picking Brewster Ambulance to replace Fallon, which held the contract for 18 years. (Patriot Ledger)

The Lawrence City Council voted unanimously to relocate four polling places due to inaccessibility. The bar Relief’s In, which served as a polling location until the vote, was also unsuitable because it serves alcohol. (Eagle Tribune)


Boston’s Olympic dream may be dead now, but the debate over old plans is very much alive. (WBUR) Greater Boston looks closely at the Brattle Group report.


Locked in a legal struggle with Boston over the traffic impacts of its planned Everett casino, Wynn Resorts on Wednesday announced plans to make the complex environmentally friendly. (State House News Service)


The Obama administration has appointed its first transgender staff member, the Bay State’s Raffi Freedman-Gurspan who worked for former state representative Carl Sciortino. (Boston Globe)


GOP presidential contenders Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and US Sen. Marco Rubio join Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to offer plans to replace Obamacare, the bane of all Republicans. (National Review)

Howie Carr says only Donald Trump is the real thing in the GOP field; the rest are RINOs and “Obama enablers.”

Former New Bedford mayor Scott Lang did not file papers seeking to run for the office again despite speculation in the city, leaving the race to incumbent Mayor Jon Mitchell and Maria Giesta, a former staffer for Barney Frank. (Standard-Times)


The New York Times continues to defend the accuracy of its reporting that the workplace atmosphere at Amazon is toxic, threatening, and fraught with job insecurity.

The Enterprise and Metrowest Daily News team up to take a look at the exploding bodyworks industry, which officials claim many take advantage of a “loophole” in state law and operate as a front for prostitution.


Northeastern University has agreed to pay a $2.7 million fine in a settlement with the US Attorney’s office over faulty accounting of federal research funds from the National Science Foundation between 2001 and 2010. (Boston Globe)

Boston Public School staff who support special needs students are stuck in school cafeterias, with not much to do before school starts, according to a Boston Globe report. Their supervisors say otherwise.

The effort to put a charter school question on the November 2016 ballot amounts to an attitudinal “sea change,” says the Globe‘s Scot Lehigh.


Greenfield police say a bystander saved an addict from a fatal overdose by administering Narcan. (The Republican)

The Alaska legislature announced plans to sue Gov. Bill Walker in order to block his move to expand Medicaid without their approval. (Governing)


Taxi revenue in Boston has dropped more than 25 percent and ridership is down by 22 percent in the first six months of the year over last year, according to data released by the Boston Police Department’s Hackney Division, with many in the industry blaming unregulated ride-sharing apps for the steep decline. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth spotlighted the impact of Uber, Lyft and others last month as part of a series on the emergence of the so-called transportation network companies.

While Congress stalls on long-term funding plan for highways, state lawmakers and governors are raising fees, taxes, and debt to pay for repairs. (Associated Press) The Berkshire Eagle argues that Washington is failing the states and that’s “a disgrace.”

Former lieutenant governor Tim Murray wants to see express trains between Central Massachusetts and Boston. (The Republican)


President Obama issued new rules to reduce methane gas emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells, pipelines, compressor stations, and other industry sources. (U.S. News & World Report)

A Salem News editorial calls on state lawmakers to “turn up the heat” on solar energy job creation.


The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for two N.C. Wyeth paintings stolen in Maine in 2013 and believed to be in the Boston area. (Boston Herald)

Longtime Subway pitchman Jared Fogle will plead guilty to having sex with a minor and pay $1.4 million to 14 victims as well as serve prison time after federal officials say he arranged to have sexual encounters on trips and had child pornography on his home computer. (Associated Press)


Major news outlets signed a letter condemning the charges recently brought against former Boston Globe reporter Wesley Lowery, now with the Washington Post, and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly in Ferguson. (Poynter)